Will the iPad Kill the Laptop Star?


Steve Jobs says the iPad is better than a laptop, tacitly implying that the notebook’s days are numbered.

Well, maybe.

No Laptop Substitute for Serious Users

Or not. I really like the iPad. I want one, but it doesn’t come within a country mile of being even a halfway-adequate substitute for a real laptop, at least for folks who use their computers as serious work tools. Laptops are going to be around for a long time to come. However, with the iPad’s price of entry at $500, the netbook folks may have plenty to worry about.

Then again, Jobs probably has a point, at least in that while web workers and other power or semi-power users who require multitasking capability, flexible input options, graphics and video editing power, and so forth will be buying laptops (and desktops) for many years to come, for the average consumer shopping at Best Buy or Wal-Mart, their laptop or netbook money may now be spent on an iPad. And if these folks discover that the iPad is all they needed in the first place (plausible in many instances) they may never buy a laptop again, which is probably what Jobs and Apple imagine to be the harbinger of the laptop’s future.

PowerBook Duo Redivivus?

For me, the deal breaker would’ve been lack of support for a real, electromechanical keyboard — I detest and revile touchscreen keyboards — but happily Apple covered that base nicely with Bluetooth support and an optional iPad Dock for the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I’m a longtime fan of the old PowerBook Duo concept from the 90’s with its various dockable expansion options, and the iPad with dock seems to be a contemporary update of that motif. Reportedly, any Bluetooth keyboard will work — not just Apple’s — so those of us who don’t like living without a numerical keypad will be covered as well.

Pointing Device Driver Still a Question Mark

A remaining caveat is that unfortunately, as of yet there’s been no confirmation one way or the other as to whether there will be mouse driver support for Bluetooth external pointing devices. I’m inclined to think that the absence of mention in Apple’s tech specs means there likely isn’t, at least so far, which means there is no precision pointing device, and even when using an external keyboard with the iPad mounted on its dock, it will still be necessary to navigate and click using the touchscreen interface — really inconvenient for folks like myself who like to sit well back from the screen when working at a desktop with external keyboards and pointing devices.

Still Some Deficiencies

The lack of multitasking support is another major shortcoming, but scuttlebutt has it that iPhone OS 4.0 may add multitasking to its repertoire of features, so that may be addressed by the time the iPad ships.

Another deficiency of the iPad as a laptop replacement is its lack of provision for memory upgrades. Of course we’ve already gone through that with the MacBook Air, but at least it comes with 2GB of soldered-in RAM compared to the iPad’s 1GB.

The iPad a Work in Progress

Accentuating the positive, however, I prefer to look at the iPad as a work in progress, and hopefully some or all of these objections, plus the absence of Flash support, and tabbed browsing in the iPad version of Safari, HDMI or MiniDisplay Port output, an SD Card reader, and any sort of non-wireless data transfer connectivity, will be remedied in subsequent versions.

In the meantime, that surprisingly friendly $500 price of entry to the iPad club should make it a formidable force to be reckoned with in the marketplace right out of the blocks, although I’m personally inclined to keep my powder dry until the Revision B models hit the Apple Certified Refurbished channels in eight or 10 months time and any teething problems get ironed out.

How about you? Eager early adopter or content to wait? And can you envision the iPad ever replacing your laptop?

Related GigaOM Pro Research:

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings


Comments have been disabled for this post